26 September 2022

Thoughts on the Rings of Power and House of the Dragon

[Note: minor spoilers below.]


“The Rings of Power” (TRoP) and “House of the Dragon” (HotD) are both just past the halfway points for their respective seasons. Overall, there is no denying that the writing and acting in HotD is superior. Yet I find myself feeling rather indifferent to its story and characters. Unlike the original “Game of Thrones” series, there are no characters that I really care about – no one remotely as interesting, entertaining, or sympathetic as Tyrion or Arya. I kind of hope that Daemon doesn’t eventually become king, as he clearly would be a rather bad one, but he’s not in the same league of awfulness as, say, Joffrey or Cersei (or at least not yet). (However, episode six reveals Larys Strong as perhaps a spiritual villainous ancestor of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, so perhaps there’s some hope.)


Overall, I just don’t care that much about how things in HotD will turn out. Should Rhaenyra become queen?



I’ll keep watching it, though, as I’m enjoying it well enough (and I’m a sucker for fantasy).

In contrast, TRoP – despite how deeply frustrating and frequently disappointing I have been finding it* – has certain hooks in me. I also care about some of the characters more than I care about any of the ones in HotD. Part of this of course is carried over from Tolkien’s writings. For instance, Elrond and Elendil are two of my favourite characters from the history of Middle-earth, so I find myself invested in their stories despite the series’ flaws. And Ar-Pharazôn’s tale is a great one, so I want to see how it is presented in the series. But I also find the “new” villains (or potential villains) far more intriguing than anyone in HotD. Adar in particular stands out, but I also want to know who Halbrand is (and what his story will be), likewise for “The Stranger,” and others.


In particular, I find myself obsessed with finding out (hopefully by the end of this season):


-       Who is Adar?

o      Is he Maglor [my current guess given his gauntlet]? Eöl or Eöl’s son Maeglin? [Of course, unlike Maglor, those two are supposed to be dead...] Sauron? What is his plan? Why does he care for the orcs so much? [Perhaps he helped Morgoth form the first orcs from captured elves in ancient times?] Why does his armour have a design similar to Gil-Galad’s?

-       What is the deal with the broken dark sword?

o      Why does Adar want it? What role (if any) will it play in transforming the Southlands into Mordor?

-       Who is the Stranger (“Meteorite Man”)?

o      Is he Sauron/Annatar? An Istar? A balrog? Something else? [My current guess is that he’s one of the Istari. I’m hoping he’s a Blue Wizard but worried that lazy writing will make him Gandalf.]

-       Who is Halbrand?

o      Is he Sauron? The Witchking? A different future Nazgûl? The king who makes the oath to Isildur at the Stone of Erech, only to break it during the War of the Last Alliance? [The latter possibility would require relocating the people of the Southlands to the White Mountains; not entirely implausible, given that the Southlands are doomed to become Mordor.] Is he Theo's dad?

-       Who is Sauron?

o      Someone already in the show, one of the above? Someone yet to appear? Is he already giving Celebrimor advice “offscreen” as “Annatar”?

-       Who are the weird cultists who appeared briefly in episode 5 and seem to be tracking the Stranger?

o      Surviving servants of Morgoth independent of Sauron? Servants of Sauron? Future Nazgûl?

-       How will the friendship between Elrond and Durin IV unfold?


So I have lots of questions. I just wish the show had better writers!


It's an odd thing to recognize one series as clearly superior overall yet care much more about what happens in the other.


I will say this for TRoP: the sets are beautiful. The scenes of Lindon, Khazad-dûm, and Númenor are amazing. And I like the look (and music) that they have created for Númenor: somewhat Minoan/Mycenean in terms of colour, murals, and overall aesthetics. The Númenorean ships look distinctive and cool. I especially liked the statue of Eärendil the Mariner with his welcoming hand – a nice contrast to the raised palms of the Argonath statues (Elendil and Isildur) that we see in the “Fellowship of the Ring” movie.



* Some of my frustrations and disappointments with TRoP:


Here are the three things that I find the most vexing about TRoP so far:


First, as I’ve mentioned before, the series writers are greatly compressing the timeline of the Second Age. Roughly, they are squeezing almost 2000 years of history into perhaps a decade or two: it covers events from shortly before the forging of the rings of power (the 16th century) to the War of the Last Alliance (the 35th century). I really dislike this move and think it’s unnecessary – the series could’ve had two parts, the first covering the forging of the rings of power and the War of Elves and Sauron, and the second covering the downfall of Númenor and the War of the Last Alliance.


The portrayals of some of the characters, especially Galadriel and Gil-Galad, strike me as simply terrible. Galadriel is comically monomaniacal (she’s not a son of Fëanor!). And Gil-Galad comes across in the show as an oleaginous politician. I really hope they improve as the series progresses. (In contrast, others, e.g., Elendil, Pharazôn, Elrond, and Durin IV, are solid in my view.)


The whole invented story about how a Silmaril (plus a pure elf, an evil balrog, a tree on top of the Misty Mountains, and a bolt of lightning) caused the creation of mithril – and (adding to this absurdity) that only mithril (because it contains some of the light of Valinor thanks to the Silmaril) can “cure” all the Elves that remain in Middle-earth – is absolute rubbish. I’m really hoping that the Silmaril-mithril story turns out to be false within the series. Elrond does refer to it as apocryphal, and in the previous episode Adar refers to the many “lies” told about Middle-earth. So perhaps this is a false tale promoted by Annatar to obtain mithril for his own purposes? (Fingers crossed!)


25 September 2022

Mournblade soon available in English

It’s been about a decade since the last official Elric-based roleplaying game went out of print in the English-speaking world: the excellent Elric of Melniboné (EoM) supplements written for Mongoose’s RuneQuest II (MRQII).


(More information about this line is available here. I had the good fortune to play in a MRQII EoM campaign with one of the line’s primary authors, Lawrence Whitaker; the first two-thirds of that campaign are described here. Since Mythras is a direct descendant of MRQII, it should be easy to use the EoM books with Mythras, should you be able to track them down. Tragically, the books are not available even in PDF anymore.)


In France, however, there is an Elric FRPG that has remained in print during this time: Mournblade from Le Département. (A brief overview is available here. Interestingly, Mournblade seems to draw quite a bit on Whitaker’s “flavour” work for EoM, that is, material on the history, cultures, etc., of the Young Kingdoms.)


I’ve long been intrigued by Mournblade and would’ve liked to read it. Alas, my Ontario high-school-mandated French proficiency has atrophied far too badly over the decades for such an endeavour to be viable.


Fortunately, an English version of the Mournblade “starter set” will soon be available in PDF as part of the Kickstarter campaign by Le Département for their boardgame Elric: Rise of the Young Kingdoms. You can “support” the KS for €10 and get the entire Mournblade set but nothing having to do with the boardgame. (This strikes me as quite odd, something I’ve never encountered before. But since I don’t want the boardgame—it looks beautiful, but I doubt I’d ever be able to play it—but I do want the FRPG starter set, I’m happy for this option.)


Here's what you get with the starter set (all digital):


  • A 56-page rulebook containing core rules, a bit of sorcery, and equipment needed to fight in the Young Kingdoms.
  • A 30-page quest book Dangerous Games. This quest is an introduction to the world of Mournbalde. While alternating between action and combat, players will be able to explore the fundamentals of the game.
  • 6 pre-generated characters to choose from, including a sorcerer from Pan Tang, a brave Captain of the Purple Towns and a sellsword from Lormyr.
  • An HD original map of the Young Kingdoms


Apparently the complete Mournblade line will be released in English eventually, so this is a relatively low-cost way to check out what the game is like.


Michael Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” setting—especially the stories concerning Corum and Elric—remain one of my favourites, especially for role-playing campaigns. So I’ll be getting this Starter Set.


Blood and Souls for Arioch!


13 September 2022

Further thoughts on One Dungeons and Dragons (DnD 5.5e)

After the disaster of 4th edition “Dungeons and Dragons” (which I realized was not for me at all after reading one quarter of the Player’s Handbook), and my intense dislike for 3e/3.5e, I thought that I would never like or play a post-TSR version of D&D/AD&D again.

But I found 5th edition to be a pleasant surprise. It actually somewhat resembled what I think of as "D&D" (it sort of feels like what a 3rd edition AD&D could've been). It's not perfect, it's not my favourite FRPG, but I've found it to be a fun, solid game. I am enjoying using it with Goodman Games' expanded version of The Temple of Elemental Evil.

So I'm not sure about One D&D. Yeah, I'm a bit worried about some of the rules changes that are being proposed, and the potential impact of WotC's virtual table-top project on other VTTs. But none of these changes are going to affect my current 5e campaign and my paper books are not going to disappear. I'm encouraged by the emphasis on ongoing compatibility, and I've been impressed by WotC's post-4e support for out-of-print TSR material (PDF and POD). (They no doubt realized that this was the most sensible response to the OSR – there’s no point or profit in gratuitously antagonizing those who prefer the older versions of the games, as they did during the 4e era.) Also, WotC seems to have been supportive of house rules, fan created content, etc., over the past decade. I don't think paper books and physical dice will be going away anytime soon, so I think fears about everything moving to an "online only subscription" model are unwarranted.

So ... I have a wait-and-see attitude. I greatly disliked what WotC did with D&D for the first fifteen years of their ownership of the line, but they seemed to have turned things around since the advent of D&D 5e. Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised again. But if I don't like the future version of the game and what WotC does with it, I'm fine with ignoring them again. As a player I don't play D&D at all (it's mainly Mythras these days). And as a GM I have versions and variants of the game I like (AD&D, Crypts & Things, Into the Unknown) and other games I'm quite keen to run (Against the Darkmaster).


12 September 2022

A new campaign setting coming for Against the Darkmaster!


I’ve mentioned my profound fondness for the Against the Darkmaster (VsD) FRPG before here. (If you ever liked MERP, or thought that Rolemaster was cool but could use some streamlining, then do yourself a favour and check out VsD!)


The formidable core-book includes a very impressive short campaign, “Shadow of the Northern Woods” (or at least it looks impressive; I haven’t had a chance to run it yet myself). Now the folks who created VsD are working on a campaign setting and set of adventures called Secrets of the Golden Throne. The setting is the island of “Awallon” (I personally would pronounce that “w” as a “v”) and looks like it can be inserted into most fantasy campaign worlds, or simply treated as a self-standing setting with little reference to the “outside world.”


Here's a brief description of the campaign’s premise:

The High King is dead, betrayed by one of his owns and murdered by the Maimed King, one of the Darkmaster’s most wicked and powerful servants, who now sits on the Golden Throne.
A strange Blight plagues the land, as hordes of marauding Wendals, led by the Maimed King’s lieutenants, ravage the countryside.
The Darkmaster’s triumph, however, isn’t complete. With her last strengths, Princess Morgawse hid the secret of the Golden Throne in the Dreamworld, out of the reach of the cruel Maimed King.
Fate brings our heroes together, and a strange dream sets them on a quest that will see them facing the machinations of the wicked Maimed King and his followers. 

I’m excited!


If you’re also interested, you can download a preview, including an initial adventure, “A Summernight Dream,” here. In the download are five pre-generated characters, including three that use some of the new kins (gnome, changeling) and options that will be available in the full book.


Among the things to be covered in the book:


  • Meet the mysterious Aes Sidhe, a mysterious group of Kins long thought lost! Ethereal Pixies, unseen Gnomes, enigmatic changelings, beguiling Asrai and voracious Ogres will join the heroes' side in the fight Against the Darkmaster.
  • Expand your character options with new unique Cultures and never seen before Backgrounds.
  • Explore the island of Awallon, an original setting inspired by fairy tales and Arthurian legends which can be used on its own, or easily dropped into an existing campaign setting.
  • Delve into the secrets of magic, with new magic options and 30 new Spells.
  • Prove your courage against a host of new monstrous adversaries.
  • Face an unprecedented threat, in an epic campaign that will decide the fate of Awallon and of the entire world.


I’m generally reluctant to support projects on Kickstarter these days, but I’ll happily make an exception for this one! (If you want to be notified when this project goes “live” go here.)

09 September 2022

The Sandman – Season 1

Here’s my quick review of “The Sandman” (the 2022 Netflix series)…

I recently finished watching “The Sandman.” The series is named after its protagonist, also known as “Morpheus," “The King of Dreams,” or simply “Dream.” Morpheus is one of “The Eternals” (others that we meet in the series include “Death” and “Desire”). He’s the ruler of “The Dreaming,” the realm experienced by mortals when they sleep. Alas, he was captured by a mortal sorcerer in 1916 (the intended target was Death, but mistakes were made). The series follows his escape from captivity a century later, and his subsequent experiences.


Back in the 1990s I loved Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. But I haven’t read them in over twenty years, so watching this series still seemed fresh and surprising. Nonetheless, there were a few things that I remembered quite well (in particular, the “The Sound of Her Wings” episode).


The first season is interesting because it consists of two multi-episode stories (episodes 1-5, which concern Morpheus’s capture, century-long imprisonment, escape, and recovery of his artifacts; episodes 7-10, which focus on the “Dream Vortex” Rose Walker, and the renegade nightmare “The Corinthian”), and three self-standing short stories (episode six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” and episode eleven’s two stories, “Dream of a Thousand Cats,” and “Calliope”).


Overall, I think “Calliope” and “The Sound of Her Wings” are the strongest of the season’s five stories (but “Dream of a Thousand Cats” is quite fun). The former could’ve been written by Rod Sterling, and the latter is simply wondrous (the story that I still remembered quite well, give its impact on me when I read it in my twenties). What I liked the most about “The Sound of Her Wings” is that it cleverly mocks the view that, if given unending life, humans would come to yearn for death.


Of the multi-episode stories, the second is definitely the weaker in my view, although The Corinthian is an impressively creepy character. One problem I had with the second story is that Desire's motivation was never really explained. Specifically, I didn’t understand why that character was trying to mess with Morpheus. (I can't remember now if it was clearer in the comic version.)


Finally, I should mention that the casting and acting is quite good overall. Tom Sturridge in particular was apparently cultivated in a vat specifically to play this role.


Overall score: 8.5/10.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).